The Independent Mechanism for Investigating the Fate of Missing Persons in Syria: Effectiveness and Concerns


The ongoing forced disappearances in Syria continue to cast a dark shadow on the history of humanity, and the international community, along with its organizations and entities, shares responsibility for the consequences. Syrian human rights organizations, notably the “Syrian Network for Human Rights,” assert that there are approximately 156,000 missing persons, including over 112,000 forcibly disappeared individuals detained by various conflicting parties, with 96,000 of them forcibly disappeared within the regime’s prisons. These figures represent the minimum estimate, as the true number of detainees and forcibly hidden individuals since 2011 remains unknown. Many families do not report the disappearances of their loved ones, and they lack trust in the documentation process, particularly for women and girls who may have experienced sexual or gender-based violence. Therefore, it is likely that the actual numbers are much higher.

Despite various international decisions, most notably Resolution 2254, which established the minimum points of international consensus and united all previous resolutions starting from the Geneva Communiqué, emphasizing that the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons is a humanitarian matter that should transcend negotiations, the Syrian regime rejected this separation. However, with the political deadlock and the lack of genuine political negotiations in Geneva yielding no tangible results, the families, especially the relatives of victims and survivors who have experienced detention, deserve to know the fate of their loved ones. This is particularly crucial considering the implications of forced disappearances on inheritance and property matters. Therefore, placing the agenda of detainees at the forefront should be a priority for the international community, especially given recent normalization efforts that have only superficially addressed the issue without implementing effective mechanisms, signifying an international failure in finding a comprehensive solution to this crisis.

In response to significant pressure from Syrian human rights organizations and repeated appeals from families of the forcibly hidden individuals, the United Nations General Assembly established an “Independent Mechanism” on June 30, 2023. Its mission is to uncover the fate of thousands of missing persons in Syria over a 12-year period and provide support to the victims and families of the forcibly hidden. The independent mechanism has the authority to access all necessary information to investigate the fate of the disappeared, including government records and reports from human rights organizations.

The resolution, drafted by Luxembourg and adopted by a majority of 83 votes in favor, 11 against, with 62 abstentions, reflects the lack of significant progress in alleviating the suffering of families of the disappeared after 12 years of conflict and violence in Syria. The fact that more than 60 countries abstained from voting signals a differing approach towards dealing with this regime, even though Western countries generally stand against any normalization actions. Additionally, most Arab countries, except for Qatar and Kuwait, did not vote in favor of the resolution, indicating their preference for a solution to the Syrian crisis through the Arab initiative and their concern that their votes might erode the Syrian regime’s trust in the Arab initiative.

Regarding the newly established independent mechanism by the UN General Assembly, families of tens of thousands of victims are questioning its ability to achieve justice for the victims and their families, especially in the absence of a clear working mechanism and without the cooperation of the Syrian regime and other parties. The Syrian government strongly opposed the establishment of this mechanism, accusing it of “interfering in Syrian internal affairs” and being “biased against the Syrian government.” Furthermore, the mechanism does not specifically address holding the perpetrators of violations in Syria accountable, and it faces funding shortages. These concerns have been raised by families of detainees and forcibly hidden individuals who fear that the human rights aspect of accountability and reparations may be neglected. The mechanism seems to focus solely on the procedural aspect of uncovering the fate, without addressing the issue of detainees whose names are listed by the regime, including those allegedly deceased due to heart attacks according to medical reports. This raises questions about the investigation process related to these names and their owners, as well as the accountability mechanisms in case they died under torture or due to lack of medication or food.

Another concern is that this mechanism may inadvertently become a means of assistance for the regime, rather than exerting pressure on it. There is a possibility that the regime could provide complete lists of the disappeared to give the appearance that their fate has been revealed, denying justice to the victims and their families while allowing the perpetrators to evade accountability and punishment, thereby obstructing the process of transitional justice in terms of reparations and accountability.

On an international level, for several years, the international community has been unable to uncover the fate of those who disappeared at the hands of organizations like ISIS. During the coalition forces’ campaign to eliminate terrorism in northeastern Syria in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces, no information about the security personnel of ISIS and the disappearance was disclosed. Furthermore, the self-administration prevents the establishment of any associations for the families of the victims and does not grant licenses for any related activities, hindering the process.

Despite the challenges and concerns, the potential effectiveness of this mechanism and its ability to contribute to achieving justice for both male and female victims and their families should not be disregarded, provided there is genuine political will.

The Syrian civil war was a humanitarian disaster that disproportionately affected women. Women were indiscriminately targeted by all parties involved in the conflict, including the Syrian regime and opposing armed factions.

The Syrian Women’s Political Movement believes that the independent mechanism for uncovering the fate of the disappeared in Syria has the potential to positively impact women in Syria by providing support to women who have lost loved ones or experienced violence. This includes offering counseling, psychological and financial support, investigating cases of enforced disappearances and torture that women have endured, and collecting evidence that can be used to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. It can also recommend legal and institutional reforms to improve the situation of women in Syria, taking into consideration the various factors that affect their lives, such as ethnicity, social class, economic status, and social and health conditions, ensuring that women from all social and economic backgrounds receive the support and justice they deserve.

The Syrian Women’s Political Movement appreciates the efforts to provide information and achieve justice for the victims and those who have lost their loved ones in Syria over the years. This is their right, and we consider this step to be a foundational one towards long-awaited justice, built upon the efforts of the families of the victims, along with the collaboration of all local, national, civil, and human rights organizations, despite its eleven-year delay.

We call on all parties to support the independent mechanism for uncovering the fate of the disappeared in Syria to achieve tangible results, ensuring that all families know the fate of their sons and daughters. This requires genuine international will from all parties involved in the Syrian file, along with a clear plan to activate this mechanism to prevent it from losing its essence, as has happened with many political files. We emphasize that the international community should provide the necessary funding for the independent mechanism and that human rights organizations should support the mechanism by providing the necessary information. Arab countries and the United Nations should exert pressure on the Syrian regime to cooperate with the independent mechanism for uncovering the fate of the disappeared in Syria and provide all the requested information.


Political Committee of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement